Let’s turn the clocks back to last year for a moment. Coincidentally, the Cowboys had just beaten the Vikings on the road to improve to 6-1. More impressive is the fact that they did so with Cooper Rush making his first career start. For a week, it felt like the Cowboys were unbeatable. Then they got shellacked by a middling Broncos team just a week later.
There was talk all week of the Broncos “solving” the Cowboys and creating a blueprint to beat them. But the players and coaches knew they just let an inferior team beat them. So they followed it up by tearing the Falcons apart piece by piece to the tune of 43-3 final score.
As the saying goes, history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme. The Cowboys, fresh off a disappointing overtime loss to a middling Packers team, were looking to make a statement. And just like last year, they did so in spectacular fashion, winning by almost the same exact score, 40-3.
The final score isn’t the only thing that’s different, though. Last year, the Cowboys “got right” against a Falcons team that was overachieving at 4-4 coming into the game. Blowing them out wasn’t anything special, just what the Cowboys were supposed to do. The Vikings team that just got demolished, though, is very different. They were 8-1, tied for the best record in the NFL, and had just knocked off the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills a week prior.
This was exactly what the Cowboys - and, more importantly, Mike McCarthy - needed. A week ago, they lost in overtime after blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. While McCarthy had said all the right things heading into that game, playing against his former employer, the players had admitted both before and after the game that they wanted to win it for him. Instead, they let it slip right through their fingers.
It was a surprising result in the context of the season, as the Cowboys have played the part of a scrappy, resilient team all year. To see that identity slip away and blow a lead against a mediocre team in a game that meant so much to the head coach was disappointing, and McCarthy hinted at that immediately after the game too.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy when asked about player frustration in the locker room after yesterday's loss in Green Bay: "There was a ton of red-ass. A ton of disappointment. A lot of anger. There was a lot said between a lot of people. And I love that."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 14, 2022
The Cowboys seemingly understood that they had cost themselves an opportunity to win the game. But how would they respond, especially with the red-hot Vikings up next? Well, the players certainly didn’t shy away from the moment.
Dak Prescott on Cowboys (6-3) at Vikings (8-1) Sunday: "This is a playoff game. ...We know what this means. We know what this means in the division. We know what this means in the NFC." Team focused on showing "the team that we are in all aspects of our game."— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) November 17, 2022
By their own doing, the team set the stage for their performance against the Vikings to be the true indicator of who they are, and by extension, who McCarthy is as a coach. Had they come out flat against the Vikings and laid an egg, or even lost in another close game, the story would have been about the Cowboys once again failing to break the glass and ascend into the upper echelon of contenders.
It should speak volumes that this wasn’t the case. McCarthy has shown a keen sense for the temperature of his locker room all year, first by navigating through Dak Prescott’s absence and now in responding to the team’s first loss since their quarterback returned. The theme for much of these McCarthy Chronicles this year has centered around the Cowboys finally representing the type of team that McCarthy has tried to create since he took the job, and absolutely obliterating a team like the Vikings only served to reinforce that message.
Now, the Cowboys have to turn around in four days and play a Giants team they’ve already beat once so far in a setting where the winner will have total ownership of second place in a surprisingly strong NFC East. The Cowboys just reminded the NFL of who they are, and now they’ve got a chance to double down on Thanksgiving.